WASHINGTON — When the United States U-18's head to Northern Ireland to defend their Milk Cup title this week, two D.C. United Academy players will get the chance to represent their country for the first time.
Midfielder Marcus Salandy-Defour and defender Jalen Robinson (pictured above), two fixtures of DC’s U-18 team this past season, earned call-ups on the heels of a fine year for the club in Development Academy league play.
“I think it’s a great honor for those two," D.C. United U-18 Academy Team coach Judah Cooks told MLSsoccer.com. "They both worked very hard. My hope is they can just learn a lot, become more confident and a little more mature and bring that back to our boys here.”
Both players are extremely versatile, and Cooks said he has used them all over the field. Salandy-Defour can play either up top as a forward or on one of the wings in the midfield. He was DC’s leading scorer this year.
“Marcus is very dynamic offensively, running at people,” Cooks said. “He scored 13 goals for us this year. I used him at forward, which is a little bit of a new position for him.”
While Salandy-Defour is more offensive-minded, Robinson is listed on the US roster as a defender, and he lined up primarily as a center back for DC close to the end of the season.
But Robinson is such a talent, according to Cooks, that he can play and excel at just about any position on the field — whether that’s as a center back, outside back or as a defensive midfielder, just a few of the positions Robinson’s played through out the past year.
Cooks said Robinson needs to use this experience to help focus on picking a spot on the field to stick with in order to continue his development.
“It’s key for him to figure out what is his position moving forward,” he said. “He’s an incredible athlete — a very good soccer player technically and tactically. He’s just starting to peak a little bit in his youth career and starting to develop and understand that he’s a very good player.”
It’s not the first time players with D.C. United Academy ties were named to the Milk Cup roster. Last summer, Ethan White and Conor Shanosky both made the trip with the side that won the competition. The duo eventually signed pro contracts with DC later in the year.
That probably won’t be the case this time for Robinson and Salandy-Defour, who are still eligible to play for D.C. United's U-18's this fall. But this will be their chance to continue developing as players and show the US technical staff they can succeed at the next level.
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, college and youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark